Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Real Food Challenge

Hey there.  It's certainly been a little while.  We've been busy around here.  This past weekend was the OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association) conference down near Columbus, OH.  We had a great time, and learned a lot of things!!!  Among the things I learned about and would like to try are growing celery and mushrooms.  More on those later, as I get set up to do so.

If you have never been to a conference similar to the OEFFA conference, I highly recommend it.  It's a wonderful mix of experts and learners (some who are both).  A place where there are like minded people all around you!  Everyone there knows the term organic and what it means.  Everyone there is somehow focused on some part of sustainability.  When you are there, you can feel that energy pulsing.  It's comfortable.  It's informative.  It's fun. 

Coming off of such a great weekend makes it a little easier to be totally gung-ho for Not Dabbling In Normal's Real Food Challenge!!

I came into the blog reading game a bit too late to join last year.  This year, we are going to participate.  It's true - we eat a lot of whole foods already, but we rely on some prepackaged foods for quick snacks (crackers mainly) and to indulge our nostalgic cravings (mac-n-cheese from a box - organic - but still prepackaged!).

I have several goals I'm hoping to achieve, or move closer to achieving, by joining the challenge.  First, I would like to eliminate, as much as possible without making myself more crazy than I already am, the prepackaged foods we eat, but could easily find alternatives for.  Looking around my kitchen and storage places, those include but are not necessarily limited to:
crackers - always organic whole grain, but processed and coming from far afield
mac-n-cheese - always organic, always white pasta, definitely from who knows where
pasta - always organic, always white, always imported  (this one is going to be a major challenge...)

Another prepackaged item we use very regularly are organic sprouted wheat tortillas.  I'm not yet ready to give those up and start making my own.  Remember the part about not making myself crazy?  This would fall into that category.  Someday, when the kids are a bit older and more self sufficient, I may take this one on.  But not now.  Cheating, you say?  Nope.  The beauty of the Real Food Challenge is to embrace it and make it your own.  Figure out the goals that are achievable for you and your family, and make them work.  The sprouted tortillas I buy are whole grain and healthy.  They make my life much easier for quick quesadillas or hummus wraps.

Speaking of quesadillas, another prepackaged item we frequently use are refried beans.  I'm not sure whether or not I can include these on my list to eliminate.  I certainly would love to.  But maybe not quite yet.

My second goal in joining the challenge is to pull more things into our lives from local sources.  Since March is the perfect time to really start digging into your garden design and ideas, I'm going to use this challenge to figure out ways to grow more of the things we love, or source them locally.  As I mentioned above, celery and mushrooms fall into that category.  Carrots were already on my list of things to grow more.  And lettuce/greens are on my list for figuring out a better winter plan.

In addition to the tortillas, there are some things that I'm not going to give up.
Chocolate - there is NO WAY on this green earth that I am willing to sacrifice chocolate!!!!!  Chocolate will stay.  Although, I may try to eat less, I already always buy organic and I get fair trade organic whenever possible.
Coffee and black teas - Ditto above for my caffeine fix.  We grow or collect all of our herbal teas.
Spices - Here, I'm talking of cinnamon and curry, corriander and cumin, turmeric and allspice and the like.  As far as herbs go, we grow what we use on those.
Olives - we don't use very many olives, but we do indulge sometimes.
Tomato paste - I've not successfully figured out how to make a suitable paste. 
Condiments, vinegars, and oils - Someday I will make our ketchup.  This year will (if all goes the way we would like it) will not be the year to do so.  But it's on the list.  I will continue to buy mustard, vinegars, and oils.  Organic, of course.

There are probably things I'm not thinking of at the moment.  I'll figure those out as I go along.  So, in a nutshell, I'm going to work on eliminating those packaged products I think are unnecessary in so many ways, finding healthy local alternatives.  And, I'm going to work on my growing plan to ensure that the local thing will be easier for next year.

If you are interested in the Real Food Challenge, visit NDIN for more information.  There is a whole list of resources in the sidebar.  I'll be posting updates here on our progress - successes and pains.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Snowman Friend and His Pal Mitten

The kids were out with Nick the other night.  Nick was shoveling.  The kids were building a snowman - carrot nose, dried apricot eyes...  Munch created a little dog to keep the snowman company (see it in front of the snowman?).  His name is Mitten.

Sweetpea carefully placed a snow ball into the snowman's hand so he could play ball with Mitten.

Looks just like he's ready to wing the ball off into the distance and have Mitten go chasing after it...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Owl PJ Pants

I decided that I should finally make myself the owl pj pants since I've had the material and plans since well before Thanksgiving.  Today. 

I used Simplicity pattern #2328 and made a size larger than I thought I would wear.  It's very generously sized!  Lucky I didn't go for 2 sizes larger so I could wear long underwear underneath!  I'll have plenty of room for long johns in these.  I love them.  I could hardly wait to finish the hems and take pics so I could put them on.

I used a 100% cotton flannel print that I picked up on sale at JoAnn's long long ago.  It's very soft and warm.

I love the little funky purple owls and the fun flower power flowers.  And backed in brown!!  What more could I ask for?

The whole thing - including cutting out the pattern pieces, ironing the pattern and material, cutting the material, and sewing it up - took me less than 2 hours.  Simple.  Satisfying.

Quiet time is over.  And I have been invaded.  I'm going to watch Planet of the Apes tonight.

Here's a sneak peak at my next sewing project...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Munch's Skirt

Remember these fabrics?

Welp.  I had an idea in my mind for a skirt for Munch.  A playful, fun skirt.  This material sooooo suits her style.  Using this tutorial from Ikatbag, I created the start of a pattern and started cutting.

Both fabrics came from a hand-me-down bag.  Of this flower denim, I had 3 larger pieces and a bunch of smaller scraps.  Somehow, the 3 larger pieces were just enough to cut out 6 of these panels.  It was meant to be Munch's skirt.

In the above picture, you can see my new cutting tools.  I went with the Gingher brand rotary cutter and 2'x3' cutting mat.  Both were purchased online at Joann's, separate times, using 50% off coupons.  Gotta love Joann's for their 50% off coupons.  I couldn't be more pleased with my purchase. They make cutting a breeze!

After cutting out the panels, I went to work figuring out the orange "peek-a-boo" pieces that I intended to sandwich in between the bottoms of each panel.  This part proved a bit tricky.  If I had known what this style of skirt is called, I could have looked it up somewhere and had some help.  But I didn't know, and still don't.  So I went with what seemed right to me at the time.  And that piece (I don't have any pics of it, sorry) looked like a wide pie piece - basically a triangular wedge with a curved side.

I sewed each triangular piece to the sides of each panel, sewed the panels together along the rest of the sides, added a zipper to be on the left side of the skirt, and I had my basic skirt.

The skirt was screaming to have a separate waist band put in, so I obliged it, and sewed one in, adding a lovely button and a child's hair band for closure.


The hem was the most challenging part for me.  The curve of the triangular pieces was quite dramatic, making a nice neat hem nearly impossible for me.  I tried hem tape - blaaaaahhhhhhhhh!   It sucked.  So I scrapped that idea and did my best with a regular rolled hem.  I measured and cut the whole bottom so that it was all the exact same length from the waist to the bottom, ironed up the hem, and went at it with the machine.  I don't think I breathed until it was completely sewn.  It's not the most beautiful hem, but it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  And it's DONE!!!

All in all, I love the skirt!!

And the little bursts of orange peeking out.

Munch loves it too.  It's so cheery!

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's So Good About Winter?

The winter blues are starting to catch up to me.  Here in NE Ohio, we have more cloudy days than we don't have.  The sun rarely pokes out, and when it does, it's often too cold to spend much time outside soaking it up.  I have been trying (and succeeding) to get enough exercise.  But, nevertheless, the blues have crept up on me.  So, today I thought I'd list some of my favorite things about winter in the hopes that it will carry me through until the end of March.

Here it goes...

1.  Hot chocolate.  That truly is number 1 on my list.
2.  Recuperation.  Winter is the time where we can allow our bodies and minds to decompress and relax.  There is a tremendous amount of activity involved in spring, summer, and fall.  After all is said and done, winter is like a nap.  A chance to rest up.
3.  The snow is rather pretty.  Especially when it sticks to the trees and the tree trunks.  Of course, once the air dries up, that doesn't happen anymore.  (Oops.  I'm trying to remain positive here...)
4.  Quiet activities.  Since there is less to do outside, there is more time for the quiet things you can do while sitting under a blanket - like reading or crocheting or planning the garden.
5.  Purging.  Winter is the perfect time to purge your house.  Out, out, out with the old!  And if you can keep from bringing in too much new, you've got it made!
6.  Leaning something new.  Since we have more time, it makes perfect sense to spend some of it leaning something new, or fine tuning your skills at something old.  Last year at this time, I taught myself how to crochet.  This year, I'm just trying to learn some new crocheting and sewing techniques.
7.  Nature's Control.  The frozen solid ground helps keep nasty gardening bugs and diseases from getting out of hand.

There.  That was a good exercise in focusing on some positives.  I somehow managed to get 7 of them thought of and written before I had to practice my patience.

Currently, I am working on several projects.  I'm at the beginning of a crocheted scarf for myself made out of this lovely bamboo silk yarn.  I'm nearly done with Munch's skirt - but I'm having some difficulty with the hem.  Blahhhhk.  Boy's quilt has been designed, the material for the back has been purchased, and I'm ready to start cutting.  I have 3 good books to read - The Eight by Katherine Neville, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and I had Nick dig out my history of math book from my college days.  And I borrowed the newest Planet of the Apes movie from my parents to watch.  Lots to keep me busy and focused.

What do you like about winter?  What keeps you going strong throughout this season?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I go through spurts.  Spurts of creativity.  Spurts of productiveness.  Some of them are forced upon me - like when the tomatoes are rotting and I need to be canning sauce and salsa, or when the house needs cleaned because we are having a party.  But some of them totally come from within.  For the last month I have been on a negative spurt - or whatever is the opposite of a spurt.  Our last year was full of non-stop spurts.  We had a super long growing season (sooooo not complaining), that moved right into preparing for Munch to turn 11, which left little time to recover before the holidays (and finishing up all the canning and preserving).  After Christmas was over, I sorta went on a mental crash.  I didn't want to make any list of things to do.  I didn't want to follow any that might have been laying around.  I just wanted to curl up and stare at the wall.

Last night, I could feel a spurt coming on.  Like I said before, I plan to work with what I have this year as much as possible.  So far, I have been doing fairly well with that (although someday I'm going to break down and buy some pencils so we can stop spending 30 minutes in search of one before each time Boy sits down to practice his math!!!!).  I've been using our stored foods for meals, hoping that I'll have the brilliance to actually remember, or write down, the things that we ran out of just too quickly for next year.  (I'm not such a good record keeper.)  And last night, I got the sewing bug in me again.  I was given a bag full of scraps that are much more than just scraps.  I'm hoping to make a dress for Sweetpea, a skirt for Munch, and a pair of pants for Boy.  Oh, and Boy's bday is coming up at the end of the month, and his gift this year is a patchwork quilt made out of old jeans.  I made one for Munch when she was 3.  Since Boy is turning 7, he is way overdue.  And with Sweetpea already a seasoned 3 year old, I thought I'd better get moving.

I have no hopes that the quilt will actually be done before his birthday.  But a good start is in the plan.  As far as the clothing goes, I would love for it to be done before the OEFFA conference, which is the weekend of February 19.  That is probably doable.

So, today...  I'm going to make some red pepper cream sauce using our own roasted, pureed, and frozen red peppers.  And I'm going to design and hopefully cut out Munch's skirt (more on that as I get things done.)  Hang on, I'll take a pic of the material.....  (hold music playing softly in the background)

Ok.  Here it is:

The flowered material is a denim.  Cute as can be and sooooo very Munch's style.  The orange looks to be a linen.  I'm not very good at knowing what materials are what just by look and feel, so don't quote me on any of that.  heehee.  The design floating around in my head is a knee length paneled skirt with triangular pieces of orange in between the bottom parts of the panels.  I'm sure there is some technical name for a skirt like that, but I have no clue what it is.  Keeping my fingers crossed that I have enough material, and that I can figure out how to make it.

Here's to spurts!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ordering Seeds and Moving More Toward Local

I recently placed my seed order for this year.  Early for me - mid-January.  But, still not early enough.  My favorite corn - luscious - is unavailable from Fedco Seeds and on back order from Johnny's.  Seems like I'm always missing something.  Oh well.

As some of you know, we grow a lot of our own food.  What we don't grow ourselves, we get from a local organic farm.  Veggies - that is.  So far, we have been successful at growing our own or buying locally and in season most of our veggies.  I can, freeze, or store them depending on the type of veggie.  What veggies have we done this with?
green beans (and yellow and purple)
sweet peppers
hot peppers
tomatoes and their lovely products (minus ketchup and paste)
winter squash (mainly butternut)
snow peas
swiss chard, kale, and spinach

But there are a few others I would really like to do better with - carrots and lettuce primarily, with a fair smattering of shell peas and celery, and a pinch of turnips and rutabagas thrown in for good measure.  My seed order reflected this.  I ordered lots of different types of carrots.  Mostly, I splurged on pelleted seeds for the ease of thinning and weeding.  I am a terribly lazy and scattered gardener.  Thinning carrot patches is WAY at the bottom of my list.  Boy is very into growing carrots.  I'm hoping to recruit his help for watering and weeding.  He had a large pot devoted to growing carrots last year.  He literally would sit on the bench and watch them sprout.  And, if you know anything about the way carrots grow, this is a long process.  I'm still amazed that he had the ability to sit still for that long.  Well, I suppose he did have a pretty cool bench to sit on...

I digress.

Carrots.  I'm going to grow lots of carrots this year.  And, I really need to figure something out as far as lettuce and winter goes.  We grow plenty of lettuce during the gardening season.  But winter is a different story.  A greenhouse would be wonderful, but not in the plans quite yet.  We are working on a big picture plan (fingers crossed please) that will make many of our dreams come true (twinkling, flashing stars are dancing about the room right now with fireworks being shot off in the distance).  For the time being, though, I need a lettuce plan.  We eat a lot of lettuce...

Fruits, dairy, beans/protein, and grains all have their local and organic stories as well.  We do fairly well with fruits.  Some of which we have to travel a bit for (30 minutes mainly), but we are ok with that for now.  Dairy - we don't eat a whole lot of dairy.  What we do eat comes from Ohio or PA dairies (it's nice to live right on the border).  We buy eggs produced organically from a local farmer.  Most, but not all, of our grains come from local sources as well.  The dry bean issue will have to wait it's turn.

Lettuce...  any ideas?